Talking about death with your children. Some thoughts.

dealing with death with children

Yesterday I took Pim to the funeral of the mother of a dear friend. She has two sons Pim’s age (11 and 13) and I decided to bring him along so that he could offer support to his friends. Even though he had once been to a funeral before, I don’t think he quite knew what to expect now that he is a bit older. To see our friends (and their friends and family) so full of sadness, and to see me so sad as well, was quite overwhelming for him.

After the ceremony we went to the house of that friend’s mum for a little while and before long the boys were happily playing with Lego again and chatting about the newest Marvell film. I think it was good for Pim to experience that grief and happiness go hand in hand. That deep and sad emotions do not overtake everything, but that there is also place for lightness and laughter.

My own childhood was quite sheltered. My grandfather passed away but I didn’t really understand what was going on. I remember our dog, she was dying, and I didn’t know how to deal with the volcano of emotions inside of me. Ignoring the situation, I remember staring at the television without even noticing it. I was afraid of that boiling volcano, which would surely erupt if I went to my dog for a cuddle; if I even looked at her.

I never really learned how to deal with death until later in life, when I lost my grandmothers and not much later my own mother. It was very hard for me as I was unprepared — I still didn’t know how to manage that volcano of emotions, how to give these passings a place.

Over the years we experienced more loss. Bibian, a close friend (and a mother of three little children) died. The sudden illness and death of Ava’s little friend Laurens. Our sweet friend and neighbour Gideon, also a young father, who passed away… I slowly learned how to deal with loss a little bit better, how to give my emotions a place. I learned how to say farewell and to accept death as part of our lives and our loves.

I learned that grief and loss will not always remain so raw and overwhelming and unmanageable as they first appear. That although they will always stay with us, deep inside of us, that life goes on… that there will be other experiences to balance out the sadness. Happy days, love and laughter, silliness and sunshine. The loss will not go away, it won’t even become smaller or less important, but the rest of our experiences will grow and get bigger, and it will allow us to remember fondly and grieve with perspective.

I wanted to prepare our children for the losses in life a little bit better than I had been. So we haven’t shielded them from sickness and death. We have been honest to them — obviously within their realm of understanding and being careful not to make them afraid or insecure. We’ve brought them to funerals when appropriate. We have let them experience how death is so very difficult and hard but that at the same time, it brings people closer together. That it makes us love and live harder. I think this is a valuable life lesson and one that we shouldn’t be afraid to carefully start teaching our children at a young age.

Feel free to share your experiences and thoughts below — it is not your everyday kind of Babyccino post, but very much a part of life…

Thank you,
xxx Esther

PS– posts about Bibian, the blanket we made for Laurens, and the death and funeral of my mother.


Comments (6)

Lizzy in Minnesota
March 21, 2019

What a difficult but important conversation to have with children. I admire the honesty you are taking on this topic (that many people shy away from!). My husband’s father passed away much more quickly than expected after a brain tumor diagnoses this past December. We brought our girls (ages 4 and 2) to the funeral and included them in the grieving process. We didn’t hide our tears from them and gave them short, but honest answers (just enough to answer their questions, never overkill). I found the book Always, Ida a beautiful way to start a discussion about death with small children (especially for someone who has a long-term illness diagnosis). I think the other important thing for us is that we still try to bring up my father in law in conversation – we look a pictures, talk about nice things they did together, and are teaching my daughters to cherish the memories and times they had with him (although short!).

March 21, 2019

Really inportant topic.
I was 22, my brother 20 and my sister 16 years old when we lost our father too early to cancer. His funeral was our first ever and we were all so unprepeared. We delt with it as good as we knew how. Now ower the experience and years we learned a lot about loss and grief.

March 21, 2019

Thank you for a Post like that! It is so important and inspiring. As a person of faith I always wonder how to explain death in a way to my children that’s appropriate, that prepares them, but that also doesn’t make them feel scared or insecure. BTW: I Love Babyccino-Posts like that. Thank you for sharing!

March 23, 2019

Thankyou Esther I really appreciate to read this. My father died nearly 8 months ago, a much loved Grandfather to my 4 children… death is part of life and I really admire the way you are dealing with this issue x

Greet Pauwelijn (Book Island)
March 26, 2019

Dear Esther, thank you so much for sharing your experiences with loss and grief. These topics are very important and we need to talk about them more openly.

March 27, 2019

Thank you for this, I can’t imagine it was easy to write and I agree with you completely. Because of my own experience of loss as a child ( lossing a parent then dear grandparents and aunts) I feel strongly that it is wrong to deny children the opportunity to grieve or to be part of that process, it is a strange notion of protection. Children feel loss as keenly as adults and I think that needs to be recognised and honoured. Yes it is hard because loss is hard. I think it is important to guide them through their grief not deny them their grief and that includes the fun and joy that can occur at a wake. I think as a society we often think we are immune to loss but no one is.

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